From the Louisiana bayou to the beaches of New England and the West, the practice of cooking seafood for a crowd has long been a part of regional culinary tradition. And with good reason. A collection of locally-sourced fish and shellfish—simply seasoned and cooked outdoors—is an easy party in itself. Each region brings their own mix of seafood and seasonings to the dish, guided by generations of culinary tradition and a healthy dose of modern interpretation.
Cajun settlers to the Louisiana region brought their tradition of the seafood boil to the Gulf Coast in the 1700s and the spicy collection of crab, crawfish and other shellfish remains a favorite throughout the region today. The New England region has its own seafood ritual. According to History.com, Native Americans prepared lobsters “by covering them in seaweed and baking them over hot rocks”—a method that is said to have inspired the classic New England clambake. Here’s the takeaway. Seafood boils, clambakes and lobster parties are part of what it means to live in the U.S. of A. So bone up on how to break down a lobster, how to get the meat out of crabs, break out the picks and crackers, and scroll down to get all the recipes, tools and tableware you need. And remember that no one, and we mean no one, turns down the invite to the Louisiana seafood boil. Prepare to get hungry, y’all.
Seafood boils are true communal eating traditions of the Gulf coast, the Carolinas, and the New England coastal region. A real Louisiana seafood boil requires a 50-gallon pot on top of a propane burner, but can easily be accomplished as a scaled-down version on the stove-top. Exuberant cooks throw extra goodies into the pot to soak up the spicy brew. Along with the requisite blue crab and shell-on shrimp, sausages, corn and potatoes add their own heft and flavor to the mix. Once the seafood is ready, service could not be more casual. Spread out some newspapers and the table is set. Dump the seafood on the table and provide guests with mallets, crackers and plenty of napkins. Saltines and cocktail sauce are optional. Cold beer is essential.
Whether the progeny of Native American tradition or the resourceful mix of coastal ingredients at hand, the New England Clam Bake is a crowd-pleasing custom that has spanned generations. For the classic preparation, start with aromatics like garlic, onion, fennel and thyme, layer potatoes, kielbasa and lobsters on top, and cook for just 10 minutes. Corn, mussels and clams go on top of that. Imagine the broth it produces; it’s incredible. No need to shuck or wrassle with anything, as the shellfish open as they cook. Just be sure to break down and divide the lobster (or set out picks, crackers and mallets). Everything goes on to one party-ready platter.
A simple seafood grill is really the place for locally-sourced shellfish to shine. Once you’ve found a reliable fish monger or become buddies with “the guy” down on the docks, this is the dish you should make. It entails just 25 minutes of prep time, and the marinade is just olive oil, parsley and garlic. The delight factor lies in the two sauces—a lemony aioli plus romesco, the classic Spanish sauce made with almonds and roasted red bell peppers. If you’re using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before threading the seafood onto them to keep them from burning on the grill.
4. The Seafood Tools You Need
If there will be lobster and crab, you will need crackers and picks (and we have the shiniest new ones). Crabs must be cracked! Go here for the mallets, curved seafood scissors, and French gift sets of your seafaring dreams. Oysters call for a shucking knife. And don’t forget a knockout Le Creuset lobster stock pot that will hold more than a few of the generously proportioned crustaceans. Goodness.
5. The Tableware That Adds to the Party
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: Lobster and their crustacean and mollusk brethren are totally a “more is more” experience. Who’s to say you don’t need (and deserve!) to serve whole lobster on a lobster platter. (Or maybe you’re more of an octopus person. Or a crab person.) So consider the lobster platter, the dinner plates, and the appetizer plates. The whole line is somehow sophisticated and straightforward at once.
New Englanders, especially those who love the shore (pronounced: “shoah”) are not subtle about their love of the water when they decorate. You can expect fish, seashells, vintage compasses, antique maps of the shoreline, and so much more when you visit someone “on the watah.” So no fear: Buy a quartet of seashell, crab and lobster salad plates. An oilcloth tablecloth that looks like the sea. A compass serving bowl. Just search “maritime” and you’ll be transported… distinctly northeast.